There’s an App for That – Using an iPhone while Traveling Internationally

Sandy writes about using her iPhone and how it has helped us while traveling internationally

While we have been on our journey we have mentioned the use of our smartphones on several occasions. I have an iPhone 4 with an AT&T plan and Darren has an Android phone that is unlocked and not on a plan. This is my second iPhone and I also had an iPad, so I am definitely an Apple person. Since many people have an iPhone, I wanted to show some of the ways that it has helped us on the road, especially during our recent time in Europe.

Whether to even keep an iPhone on a US plan that I would not be using for over a year was a question that we debated at length before we left on this trip. When we decided to keep the phone, I reduced my plan to the lowest data and voice options possible. One thing that has made keeping my iPhone worthwhile is that our two daughters, my dad and my brother all have iPhones too. So when I have Wifi I can text back and forth with them, using iMessage, for free. I have saved a significant amount of money doing this.

I have also been using the AT&T international data plan when available. For example, I had international data turned on during the time we were in Europe.

Using Instagram on my iPhone

In Asia I turned the plan off and on depending where we were during my plan month and whether our destinations were on AT&T’s list of 140 countries. Both the list and the data plans keep changing so I made it a point to check the list before we entered a new country. AT&T recently upgraded their lowest international data plan from 50 MB to 120 MB a month. So I quickly canceled the 50 MB plan and added the 120 MB option. For just $5.00 more a month, I got significantly more data.

So what do I do with the international data? The obvious things are checking email, Facebook and Twitter. We also have just started using Instagram (Trekkingtheplanet) so the phone is great for taking and uploading pictures. I have a foreign currency converter app (Oanda) which I use to double-check the rates in new countries and use when I am converting currency.

I also keep all of our hotel reservations in PDF form in the Dropbox Internet cloud. On the iPhone Dropbox app I can mark them as favorites, which stores them offline, and then I can use them as a paperless reference when I check in and pay.

The phone is also great for storing notes and information to have at my fingertips. For example, I captured information about our train routes, prior to that day’s travel, so that I could note the arrival times of the previous stations before our scheduled stop. This was helpful to know if the train was on time or running late as we approached our stop.

I use the Kindle app to read books (and I buy more on the road when I finish those) and to reference the guidebooks I have purchased. In Europe I usually re-read the next country’s chapter on the train a couple of days before we arrived there.

By far the best use for our phones has been with maps and directions. This has taken some trail and error on my part to make this work. I started out by mapping the distance, say, from the train station to the hotel, in Google Maps on my laptop, and then sending the link to my iPhone. Then I progressed into saving the map as a PDF on my laptop and sending it to my phone. I moved into doing all the research on my iPhone and then ‘screenshoting’ it (by holding down the on/off switch and the home button) to have it as a picture on my phone. This way, I had a directions map without using my international data allowance. If we got lost, I turned on location services (similar to GPS) to have a point of reference to get us started or to double check our location.

iPhone Map from Ancona, Italy, Ferry Terminal to Train Station

The only time when we got into trouble with this approach was in Serbia. As we crossed the border, I received a text message stating that Serbia was not on the list of countries included in AT&T’s international data plan, which surprised me. It was the only country in Europe that we visited that was not on the plan. When we arrived in Belgrade, I whipped out my phone with my saved map from the train station to the hotel, only to discover that none of the streets on my map matched our current location (turns out that Google maps gave me directions from a train station other than the main one).

We had no idea where we were in relationship to the hotel, but we knew it was not a far walk. So we found an adjacent street with several restaurants on it and I turned on Wifi on my phone. After some trial and error I was able to get into one of the restaurant networks and enable location services to discover we were only about 1/2 mile away from the hotel!

Looking back, I cannot imagine going through Europe without my iPhone. Now that we are in Africa I am not able to use international data in every country. Looking forward, when we get home in March, I will be eligible for an upgrade, so I am looking at the iPhone 5 very closely!

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2 comments on “There’s an App for That – Using an iPhone while Traveling Internationally
  1. Anne Licata Solaas says:

    We travel a lot too, though not as much as as far you do. Hopefully some day! After battling the international plans with ATT,–I don’t know how much wi-fi you get,–we found an app called Viber that allowed us to text and call home for free! We needed wi-fi but it saved us a bundle on our last trip to Nicaragua. Thanks again. We as a family are LOVING tracking your travels 🙂

    Anne

    • Darren and Sandy says:

      Hi Anne!

      Thanks for your comment and the information about Viber. I will be sure to look that up as we have Wifi at most places that we are staying. Sandy